From Covid-19 to conflict in Europe, from net zero to navigating the vagaries of digital disruption, the challenges facing organizations today, the chronic uncertainty in our operations, supply chains and markets are so complex that they require new ways of thinking and learning.
These are adaptive challenges – problems that cannot be solved top-down, but require people, teams, units and functions across the organization to scale up, iterate and innovate, learn and adapt. For leaders looking to build businesses that are resilient to disruption in today’s environment, it is imperative to not only become more adaptive themselves, but to instill that adaptability through their organizational culture and workforce. ‘work.
So said Herminia Ibarra, Charles Handy Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School. And in her own research, examination of current thinking, and work with companies, she identified five critical skills that leaders should prioritize in order to build adaptability within their organizations.
“Companies struggling with adaptive challenges today need to embrace a learning orientation that empowers people to become more adaptable – to experiment, iterate and innovate and share learning across organization. For many, this will mean finding new ways of working – and of course, overcoming the setback that inevitably accompanies change. Getting people on board with new ways of working, winning hearts and minds, depends on building a set of skills as a leader and inculcating those skills or abilities throughout the company,” says Professor Ibarra.
“The five skills that I have identified, without being exhaustive, are nevertheless essential to achieve this. These skills are: transversal, collaborative, coaching, culture and connection. »
1. Transversal: Build larger and more diverse networks.
The ability to develop reach and diversity by building cross-functional human networks is a skill that is clearly beneficial for leaders and businesses.
A revolutionary US S&P 1500 CEO Survey managed to condense executives’ professional networks of professional contacts into a single diversity index – a quantifiable value that weighs elements such as gender and nationality, education, professional expertise and global work experience of CEO networks. These networks were contacts that leaders had proactively forged through school or university ties, work ties, and social ties.
When the researchers compared the values of network diversity and looked for links to company performance and value in their study, they found that CEOs with more diverse networks create more value for the company because they are more innovative, as measured by patents, and engage in more productive and diversified mergers and acquisitions. CEOs who were diversely connected (at the 75th percentile of the researcher’s “diversity index,” based on gender, nationality, academic credentials, professional expertise, extracurricular activity, and global work experience) , compared to those who were just average, improved the Tobin Q score, a ratio of market value to book value of assets, to a level equivalent to an $81 million increase in market capitalization for a company of median size in their sample.
“What this study shows is that CEOs who cross their networks and establish more heterogeneous contacts have access to diverse knowledge and expertise. They have greater visibility on emerging and international opportunities. As a result, they enjoy benefits such as higher quality patents, more successful mergers and acquisitions, and better inventory valuation.
But there is a catch. Human beings are wired to attach to the familiar. We bond more easily with those who look like us or who share cultural or societal values. It’s like we were programmed to be narcissistic, said Professor Ibarra. And we are “lazy” when it comes to rooting out the new. So how can we build more diverse networks as leaders? It’s as simple as feeling comfortable being uncomfortable, she says. This may involve involving people from different units, functions, backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, or different thinking styles in group decisions to generate divergent ideas. It could be as simple as deliberately sitting next to someone new at lunch.
Whatever form it takes, the intersection of your network will strengthen your perspective, broaden your knowledge base, help challenge assumptions, and uncover new ways of thinking about adaptation issues.
Collaborative leadership harnesses the benefits of diverse and divergent thinking, but getting it right requires putting in place the systems, processes and cultures that allow for the free exchange of ideas. Anxious to codify the secrets of the perfect team, the American giant Google has embarked on a two-year study, Project Aristotlepublished by the New York Times Review.
By examining 180 Google teams and over 250 team attributes, the study found a group of behaviors or norms that actively promote constructive collaboration. These standards included reliability, structure and clarity, ensuring that the work itself has meaning and is understood to have a positive impact. But underlying all of them was one main feature that enabled all the others: psychological safety.
“Creating psychological safety such that everyone feels empowered to speak up without fear of scrutiny or recrimination means learning, as a leader, when to hold back and make room for others to contribute,” says Professor Ibarra. . “It means learning to listen and developing social sensitivity to appeal to those who are introverted or less inclined to express themselves. It’s about understanding that sometimes silence is the default rule and having the awareness to withdraw contributions if necessary. »
Coaching consists of giving your employees the means to make the best use of their autonomy, that is to say their ability to make their own decisions in an adaptive and agile manner. And it is a question of moving from “knowing everything” to “learning everything”, explains Professor Ibarra.
“Basically, coaching isn’t about telling people what to do or how to make decisions. It’s about asking them good questions that affirm their knowledge, abilities and confidence in their contributions – and thereby encouraging them to contribute their own creativity, innovative thinking and solutions.
Good questions, she adds, are open-ended and not leading: “If you already know the answer, don’t ask it as a question, because it’s a statement.” Instead, aim to create conversations with employees and draw inspiration from books from companies like Microsoft that have moved from a culture of inspection to a culture of coaching – from giving managers a sense of empowerment, agency and the confidence to spot problems. and find solutions for themselves and their clients.
4. Shape the culture
Microsoft also has valuable lessons for leaders in terms of what Professor Ibarra calls shaping culture. She cites CEO Satya Nadella, who instituted a culture-wide shift from internal competitiveness – an institutional jockey for position and influence attached to established knowledge or expertise – to a growth mindset: a culture of experimentation, of trying new approaches, accepting failure and learning without fear of reprisal, judgment or career limitation.
“Shaping your culture sometimes means having the courage to destroy certain processes or systems in favor of or better ways of doing things. Nadella took the risk of portraying learning as Microsoft’s central cultural pillar, because learning involves making mistakes, making mistakes, and absorbing lessons along the way. »
Perhaps the biggest example of this was the decision by one of Nadella’s direct reports, Jean Philippe Courtois, to transform the way the company conducted quarterly business reviews, says Professor Ibarra.
“The Mid-Year Quarterly Business Review engendered fear, it took weeks and weeks to prepare, it meant that Microsoft employees had their eyes on the ball – their customers. By transforming the way they were made, Courtois really led by example in making the company more adaptable, more agile, more growth oriented Sometimes with the shaping of the culture you have to take a wrecking ball for these things that are no longer fit for purpose.
Professor Ibarra’s final C is related to the interpersonal dynamics of leadership. His challenge to leaders is to ask themselves this question: why should someone work for you?
Building the bonds, the trust, the engagement between team members and employees to get those people to engage and align their efforts around your leadership depends on modeling certain attributes, she says. Among these, empathy, a skill like any other that is learned, developed and improved.
“Empathy may not come naturally to some and it can be something to work on – thinking and thinking proactively as a core leadership skill. Certainly, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that human qualities such as authenticity, humanity, transparency and vulnerability – the skills that underpin leaders’ ability to connect with their people – have been essential in resisting disruption.
Life has changed dramatically in recent years, says Professor Ibarra. And what got us here is unlikely to get us there, she warns. It is essential to regularly take stock of how leadership – and expectations of leadership – continue to evolve. It is essential for remaining relevant, effective and successful as a leader, and essential for preserving the adaptability and well-being of workforces and organizations in times of chronic change and uncertainty.